A Countdown of the Best Cheap Eats You Can Find in Boston

We count down the city's absolute best foods for $3... $2... $1...

Pilgrim at Mike’s City Diner/ Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Boston is an expensive city—but if you know where to look, there are plenty of places to find satisfying more-than-snacks on a budget. Here are some of our favorites, in descending totals of crumpled lunch money you just discovered shoved in a pocket of shorts you haven’t worn since last spring. (Score!)

$12: Pilgrim Sandwich at Mike’s City Diner

It’s an entire Thanksgiving feast in your mouth: the Pilgrim sandwich at Mike’s, a landmark South End diner that’s a favorite of known professional glutton Guy Fieri. There’s house-roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy—plus a side of fries and a pickle, and all for under a dozen dollars. Thank you, don’t mind if we do.

1714 Washington St., Boston, 617-267-9393, mikescitydiner.com.

$11: Build-your-own pasta from Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta Express

If you wanna feel full and keep your wallet fat, pasta is usually a good place to start—and Lilly’s is a very good place to go, with its heavy, homey plates of pasta for a relatively light price. Choose between linguini, fettuccini, and more, then dictate your sauce; rich and creamy alfredo is always a good place to go for a little of that loosen-your-belt action. Choose-your-own toppings like sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, capers, and caramelized onions can be added for a buck or so apiece, too.

1528 Tremont St., Boston, 617-427-8080, lillysgourmetpasta.com.

cusser roast beef sandwich

A “Three-way” roast beef sandwich at Cusser’s. / Photo by Holly Rike

$10: Roast beef sandwich at Cusser’s

Here’s the thing about roast beef sandwich shops: You can only shave off so many dollars before you start risking a rubbery result. Ten bucks is a small price to pay for the kind of consistency you get at Cusser’s, which piles its rich rolls with a mound of perfectly roasted, grade-awesome Wagyu—topped with BBQ sauce, mayo, and Jack cheese, if you want it in traditional North Shore form, or with pickled onions, spicy aioli and cheddar for Cusser’s own “80T” take.

304 Stuart St., Boston, 617-917-5193; 401 Park Dr. (Time Out Market), Boston, 978-393-8088, cussersboston.com.

$9: Frik at Saus Boston

No, it’s not a hot dog. It’s a frik, a deep-fried pork and beef sausage nestled into a brioche roll, it’s a popular Dutch and Belgian street food, and it’s served at the downtown location of this fast-casual favorite, which is often better-known as a rare-in-these-parts place to find poutine. That said, the dog—frik, it’s a frik!—is delicious, offered with toppings like pickled jalapeños, beer cheese, “secret Saus,” and more. Wolf it down.

33 Union St., Boston, sausboston.com.

ko pies

A selection of KO Pies. / Photo by Ruby Wallace-Ewing

$8: Australian meat pies at KO Catering & Pies (soon to be Seabiscuit)

When we heard that KO owner Sam Jackson was moving back to Oz, we worried that he was going to be taking his awesome Australian meat pies with him. Well, hold your horses: Jackson found buyers who will continue to serve his recipes for flaky hand-sized pies filled with beef stew, braised lamb shank, curried veggies, and more. Andrew and Greta Platt will open Seabiscuit at the Eastie space this year, and their bakery-cafe will continue to serve the pies—plus, of course, plenty of new pastries and whatnot, too.

256 Marginal St., Building 16 (Boston Harbor Shipyard), East Boston, 617-418-5234, kocateringandpies.com.

$7: Gorgonzola burger at Tasty Burger

When it comes to burgers, there’s true beauty in that Venn-diagram between “cheap” and “actually delicious.” Every option at Tasty Burger fits the bill, starting with the most basic patty; its $5 price tag belies how beefy it is. If you want to go for not-literally broke, though, may we suggest the gorgonzola burger, which is positively doused in melted crumbles of super-rich, sharp cheese that’s both flavorful and very filling.

1301 Boylston St., Boston, 617-425-4444; and other locations; tastyburger.com.

$6: Bánh mì at Ba Le

Six bucks or less for one of—if not the—best banh mi in town? Yes, please. The fresh-baked baguettes are filled with pickled veggies, fish sauce, mayo, and your choice of pork (skin, bologna, belly…) or fish patty, barbecued beef, and more. Best of all, you’ve got money left over for a mango, lychee, jackfruit, or watermelon smoothie, with or without boba bubbles.

1052 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 617-265-7171, balebanhmiboston.com.

$5: Decked-out waffles at Zinneken’s

Okay, we’re cheating just a bit here: $5 starts you off with a waffle, either light and Belgian or a thick Liege-style spin with super-sugary, sticky dough. These are, to be honest, delicious all on their own. But then, for a buck apiece, you get to layer on decadent fixings like Nutella, caramel, whipped cream, cookie butter, and more. Even the most overloaded options—like the Oreo Freakin’ Party, which is exactly what it sounds like—wind up only a few dollars more.

1154 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-876-0836, zinnekenswaffles.com.

Blackbird Doughnuts in the South End. / Photo by Chris Hughes

$4: Doughnuts at Blackbird Doughnuts

Three-bucks-and-change now seems to be the standard rate for a ring of chocolate-frosted goodness at most of Boston’s indie-artisan doughnut shops (of which we have quite a few, thank heavens). If you want some real bang for your buck, though, we lean toward Blackbird—both the brioche-like raised doughnuts and rich cake doughnuts have a nice heft to them, and that’s before you factor in the various glazes and monthly-changing fillings, like cream cheese, ube mousse, and cherry jam.

492 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-482-9000; 20 Kilmarnock St., Fenway, Boston, 617-482-9000; 100 Holton St., Brighton, 617-482-9000; 55F Union St., Newton, 617-482-9000; Smith Campus Center at 30 Dunster St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-482-9000; blackbirddoughnuts.com.

$3: Hot dogs at Sullivan’s Castle Island

Now that we’ve officially entered warm-weather season, it is every Bostonian’s civic responsibility to find time for a picnic in the grassy shade of Fort Independence on Castle Island, where hitting up this no-frills fried seafood and burger shack is a seasonal tradition. Everything is on the cheap side here, even the clam strips and lobster rolls (relatively speaking), but the penny pincher’s best friend is the delicious $2.60 steamed hot dog with mustard, relish, and onions. Order up a whole pack to rollerblade back to your crew on the nearby Southie Rivieria (otherwise known as the Carson, L Street, and M Street beaches).

2080 William J Day Blvd., South Boston, 617-268-5685, sullivanscastleisland.com.

Galleria Umberto's Sicilian slices (center)

Galleria Umberto’s Sicilian slices. / Photo by Nina Gallant

$2: Sicilian-style pizza squares at Galleria Umberto

Be sure to get there by mid-afternoon, because this North End institution starts sweeping the floors once customers have mopped up its daily-made trays of square-cut, Sicilian-style pizza. The cash-only, cafeteria-style space is a legend for a reason, and that reason is heavenly, thick crust with a thick layer of sweet tomato sauce and toothsome cheese for two bucks a slice. One will satisfy the peckish; two is what you really want.

289 Hanover St., Boston, 617-227-5709. 

$1: Just about everything at Ho Yuen Bakery

It used to be that you get could most of the (many, many) treats at this Chinatown bakery for a couple of quarters. More recently, most of the prices have just jumped over the dollar mark—but come on, we’re not complaining about $1.10 egg custard tarts or black bean muffins, or any of the other delish sweet and savory buns, rolls, and doughs that stock its cases. They’re still inexpensive enough to spread our sampling far and wide.

54 Beach St., 617-426-8320.